Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett’s debut album Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit is exactly what the title says. It depicts a fascinating trip through Barnett’s mental workings; sometimes profound, sometimes nonsensical, but more than anything else, fascinating. In some facets she seems to know herself and everyone else better than anyone deemed possible, but in others she admittedly knows absolutely nothing. The juxtaposition of stream-of-consciousness rambling, slow crooning with oh-so-subtle cymbals and in-your-face guitars successfully reveals a world of contradictions cloaked in a sleek sheet of tongue-in-cheek humor.
Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit.
The LP’s opener, “Elevator Operator,” recounts the day of one Oliver Paul. The first half of the song is hard to follow due to Barnett’s quick delivery, but once Paul finds himself in an elevator with a woman, they’re both headed to the roof. “Don’t jump little boy, don’t jump off that roof,” she says. “I think you’re projecting,” is his response. We don’t know what happens to her, but Paul heads to the room to play an imaginary game of SimCity. “Pedestrian at Best” is Barnett’s recognition that she is fully capable and prone to dick moves. She chants the chorus “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you / Tell me I’m exceptional, I promise I’ll exploit you / Give me all your money, and I’ll make origami, honey / I think you’re a joke, but I don’t find you very funny,” over head-banging guitar riffs.
“An Illustration of Loneliness” feels like a night alone in an apartment filled with marijuana smoke. You stare at the ceiling, think about palmistry and miss someone a lot. At this point in the album, it’s confirmed that Barnett seems to know stuff we don’t. Her depiction of stories is poignant to the point where listeners will take anything she has to say as fact. She’s in the know in the same fashion as Jayden Smith, but less annoyingly so.
The narrative style present in “Elevator Operator” returns on “Depreston” and “Aqua Profunda.” The former is a combination of the words “depressing” and “Preston,” the town in which she finds herself looking at a house. The mundane delivery of the mundane subject turns into a social commentary. She is sad to move away from coffee shops, and then she sees a picture of the deceased owner and is unable to concentrate, but nearly instantly finds herself thinking, “I wonder what she bought it for?” The track comes to a close with her agent stating, “If you’ve got a spare half a million / You could knock it down and start rebuilding” six times. With each repetition the irony in her voice becomes consistency more prominent to reveal the ridiculousness of the statement.
“Aqua Profunda” narrates her experience attempting to impress a fellow swimmer at the pool, but in her vain attempt, she passes out from holding her breath and once she awakes, he is gone.
It is the storytelling present in tracks that make the album interesting. The lyrics are not miraculous themselves, yet somehow through delivery and production, Barnett manages to make impressive songs that don’t even have infectious choruses.
The stand out track of the second half of the album, “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party,” is a commentary on extroverts and introverts: the party girl vs. Barnett. She sees the girl’s qualities as valuable. “You always get what you want,” she sings. After the chorus, her tone changes. “Why are you so eager to please?” She appreciates her own social style. The repetition of the chorus “I wanna go out, but I wanna stay home” closes the track. The conflicted persona she presents may be one of the most relatable of all time.
Dropped in her three-minute-song-style is a pair of seven-minute tracks. Her crooning introspection on “Small Poppies” is balanced by a small dig: “I’m sure it’s a bore being you.” On “Small Poppies” and “Kim’s Caravan” Barnett is confused. “Small Poppies” displays that she simply (or complicatedly?) does not know who she is and searches for answers in her tumultuous relationship over rock-band-level guitars. In “Kim’s Caravan,” she likens the Great Barrier Reef to a whore who has been raped out of greatness. Finally, she sees Jesus (whom she refers to as “she”) and runs out of things to say. Has she said everything already? Is she simply dumbfounded? Dealer’s choice.
The album closes with “Boxing Day Blues.” This track, specifically placed as the album’s finale, seems to be reflective of her work as a whole. Lines like “I know that I let you down / You’re not keen on what you found” are inferences on how listeners feel at the end of her work. Her parting words, “I’ve got no idea,” allow listeners to wait for her. Despite her feelings, it seems she has a wealth of ideas: some extremely poignant, others extremely mundane. Nonetheless, her ideas are worth hearing (and enjoying).